Cluck yeah! The best chicken festival in the universe
By Leven Woon
It’s April, it’s cats and dogs in the southern Thai provinces.
But the Betong folks want to have fun.
They have a tsunami-size brainwave.
They will RAWK the rafters with the first-ever annual Betong Chicken Festival!
Cluck yeah! Komunitikini was invited!
* * *
Don’t mistake this town for its Sarawak namesake. In fact, this Betong (pronounced “beh dong”) finds its place at the southern Thai province of Yala, bordering Pengkalan Hulu of northern Perak.
With a population of over 20,000, mainly rubber tappers and petty traders, Betong was once a bastion of the Communist Party of Malaya and is now home to the Peace Village, settled by ex-CPM members after the truce with the Malaysian government in 1989.
The three-day festival saw the hazy border town go gaga. Its river front became a feast of eclectic food, scrumptious insects (yes, insects), shopaholical clothes and good beers.
One end of the market connected to the town’s iconic Monglikit Tunnel, which was turned into an exhibition venue, while at another end was the town stadium, where the music was pumpin’.
But for all its chicken-themed fun, the festival was neither chicken-oriented nor food-related. It was just a yummy stunt that played on the town’s well-known reputation for chicken meat, kinda like how elephant=Thailand. The ultimate goal of the festival, in Komunitikini’s opinion, was to foster a sense of belonging among the locals by heaping praise on the town. Genetic blessings help a lot towards this end… or maybe they look this way because they’re happy.
And so the big bash was scheduled from a Sunday to a Tuesday, as opposed to a more tourist-friendly weekend. Foreign tourists did not make up a large crowd; instead, Thais from other southern provinces such as Narathiwat, Pattani or Hatyai city flocked in to discover the border town’s charm.
An exhibition in the Monglikit Tunnel quickly grabs my attention. I learn that the 273-metre long, nine-meter wide, road tunnel was completed in 2001 to connect the northern and southern parts of Betong. This is the venue for the Chicken Festival’s outdoor activities.
The tunnel is closed to motorists and is gently and tastefully illuminated. Popular Betong landmarks, such as a Srivijaya-inspired temple, church, mosque, the largest mailbox in Thailand (yes, Betong owns it), the municipal council building, and even border milestones to Malaysia have been made into vivid sculptures and displayed in their full splendour.
Much to my surprise, the locals appreciate these replica sculptures, even if they can see the actual things in real life everyday.
It all reminds me of Tropical Village in Air Hitam, Johor where scores of popular world landmarks have been turned into replicas. But when replicas of local landmarks are presented to local audiences, a bond between the town and its people seems is established.
Seeing Thai people posing, taking photos, poking fun at each other with the sculptures, I wonder if people from the other side of the border would ever hail their land like this.
Somehow, the organiser knows how to get a good gig going. There’s a photography competition for pictures that best depict the town.
There’s a Miss Teen Betong competition too (of course), and the finalists are being snapped up (like hot cakes) at the town’s popular hot springs.
On the last day, the Thai band Black Head that has landed from Bangkok gives a free concert.
Never mind that majority of the Betong population is of Muslim and Chinese descent; the moment the band appears on stage… the screams shake the earth. Youngsters surge towards the stage, sing and sway to the rhythm. The band belts out hit songs one after another, and the crowd goes hysterical (which is all-too forbidden in Malaysia).
The festival ends with one massive choral and orchestral movement, performed by both the band and the crowd.
There may be more famous or glitzy festivals in other parts of the world, but none come close to this hail to the town.
Staggering out of the stadium with buzzing ears, I grasp the last chance of a bite of the tender fried chicken.
What a blast. Memories are made of this…
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